Sunday, 16 June 2013

Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane - Book Review

Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane
edited by Jonathan Oliver
Amazon (UK) (USA)

They gather in darkness, sharing ancient and arcane knowledge as they manipulate the very matter of reality itself. Spells and conjuration; legerdemain and prestidigitation – these are the mistresses and masters of the esoteric arts. Magic comes alive in their hands. British Fantasy Award nominee, Jonathan Oliver, gathers together sixteen stories of magic, featuring some of today’s finest practitioners, including Audrey Niffenegger, Christopher Fowler, Gemma Files, Thana Niveau, Robert Shearman, Will Hill, Sarah Lotz, Storm Constantine, Dan Abnett, Sophia McDougall, Alison Littlewood, Lou Morgan, Gail Z. Martin and others. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

Magic is my absolute favourite subject matter in fiction, and so a whole anthology of stories based on this theme definitely grabbed my attention. Most of the stories in the collection lean towards the darker side of the subject, exploring more sinister uses and sources of magic. There are stories about demons, magic used to kill and hurt others, dark energy, obsession, curses and more. The cover really does a great job of capturing the mood of the collection; it’s definitely dark fantasy, and many of the images and atmosphere of the stories will linger with you.

As with all short story collections, there are going to be some stories that are a hit and some that are a miss, and this is likely to be very subjective. Personally, I found this quite a strong anthology, with plenty of stories that kept me interested, and I think there will certainly be something here for everyone. The majority of stories were enjoyable, many very gripping or moving, a few forgettable ones (and one I would really like to forget), and some that I would happily read if they were to be turned into longer novels or series. In general the stories are quite short and well paced. I found myself reading through the whole collection very quickly.

Although I really enjoyed the collection, I did feel like it might have been nicer to have a bit more variety in the settings and type of magic used. The majority were set in modern day or more recent past, and the magic tied to the supernatural, giving the collection an urban fantasy feel. I would have liked to see a little more mysterious, unfamiliar, traditional fantasy, and fairytale magic explored as well, and it would have been interesting to see how the authors might have given that a dark twist and their own original spin.

My favourites in the collection were The Wrong Fairy, by Audrey Niffenegger, a wonderfully atmospheric story involving fairies, addiction and madness; Do As Thou Wilt, by Storm Constantine, a unique and clever look at modern witches and the power people have, with some very subtle magic; MailerDaemon, by Sophia McDougall, a very creepy, and at the same time surprisingly beautiful story; Buttons, by Gail Z. Martin, a great little urban fantasy; The Art of Escapology, by Alison Littlewood, another creepy story in a very different way, well told; and Shuffle, by Will Hill, which managed to tell a lot of story with so little revealed, as if the story itself is a magic trick.

I enjoyed this collection, and I think those who like stories about magic, urban fantasy, or dark fantasy involving the supernatural, will easily find something to like here.


  1. Nice review! I'm not big on anthologies as a rule, but I've read some good ones. This one is perhaps a little dark for me, but I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Also love anything based around magic! Shame it's more contemporary fantasy than traditional but shall definitely go take a look on Amazon. :)